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Soaring milk prices may hit affordability, health

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Growth in the dairy industry necessitates ethical, accessible and safe milk production; without these, milk could become inaccessible to the general public

For ages, milk has been universally acknowledged as an excellent source of nutrition, especially for children. A good sign that milk & dairy production in our country is increasing fast. However, if the trend of consistently rising milk prices is not held up, it may be hard for the common man to afford it, thus impinging on the health of their family. Whole milk price of popular brands is presently hovering around Rs. 66 a litre. Nutritionists recommend routine intake of milk and its derivatives to maintain a balanced diet. So ironic that the legendary repository of milk, ‘a country with rivers overflowing with milk’ is now concerned with feeding safe milk to its people!

India has been consistently atop in milk production since 1997 and contributes about 25% to the global milk output. In 2023, India produced 231 million metric tonnes of milk with a decadal compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6%. More important than NITI Ayog’s prediction of achieving the 300 million metric tonnes mark by 2030 is the need to ensure that this staple nutrition is accessible to the countrymen at large. The fault lines must be identified and addressed in time.

Beyond just a fluid secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals for nourishing their young ones, cow milk and cows are special to India, sacred and pure since the Vedic era. Along with its other holy derivatives like curd and ghee, it is a routine offering to Gods at religious observances particularly during Shivaratri and Nag Panchami festivals. To Hindus, the cow is sacrosanct, at par with Gods. As against other milch animals, buffalo, sheep, goats and camel, the cow is also a symbol of motherhood, fertility, prosperity, health and strength. It has had sanctity in other faiths as well. Egyptians accorded cow the status of goddess of milk, ‘Iat’ due to its association with nurturing attributes. Among early Christians, milk was figuratively used for abundance, blessings, spiritual food and purity. Prophet Muhammad said, “The milk of the bovine (cow) contains healing, its fat is a medicine and its meat a cause for sickness.” This is despite most milk in India being derived from buffalo, which is valued for its higher fat content and its use as a draught animal.

In our country, 60% of the milk is produced by the unorganised sector, remaining 40% is from the organised sector, mostly dairy cooperatives and private players. However, the scenario is set to reverse and in a few years the milkman of the unorganised sector may have to shift the profession for numerous reasons. For one, the city folks prefer value-added or packaged milk & dairy wrapped in pouches or packets made of LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE or EVA; cans and tetra packs. Admittedly, the products from the organised sector are superior; pasteurised (i.e. heating for a while up to 700C to minimise infection, then cooling) and sticking to certain quality specifications yet it has its pitfalls partly the deliberate ones. I recall the description of the Vijaya brand milk tetra pack of an Andhra Pradesh dairy in the early 80s while I was in Bhopal. It guaranteed freshness without refrigeration for up to six months in any ambient temperature – decades after, we witnessed Amul, Britania and other popular brands taking the cue. Mind that the milk in the pouch procured from the booth degenerates when heated just in 10 to 15 minutes, it is so delicate. There is more to tetra packs than tetrahedron texture to keep its non-degradability intact for long.

It is toxic preservatives like formaldehyde and other additives in play to extend the shelf life of milk and its derivatives. Studies have already shown serious health consequences like food poisoning, gastrointestinal and cardiac issues, hepatic and renal failure and even cancer.

It is like lethal insecticides being spread 400 times more than the permitted doses on maturing crops to avert foodgrain loss and ensure enhanced shelf life. Also, witness many popular desi ghee brands selling at Rs. 450 a litre while in villages it costs between Rs. 1200 to Rs. 2400 although dairy people confide that per kg cost of desi ghee is Rs. 500 to Rs. 600.


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Indian dairy business is incessantly growing at 4.5% annually. The organised milk sector is elated at the growing international and domestic demand and business prospects. Yet it must be monitored that the ethical aspects are not compromised and the domestic consumers are not taken for a ride. Fodder availability for large milch cattle, education & training and technology improvement are the other formidable issues in dairy to be addressed. Our young ones also must be made to learn that saying no to milk is saying no to nutrition and that almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk are poor substitutes.

Amul Federation, the undisputed leader has planned expansion activity abroad and is targetting one Rs one lakh crore business now. Dairy supports the livelihoods of one billion people worldwide. As we celebrate Milk Day, an FAO initiative, to recognise the importance of milk as a global food let us not overlook that the common people are not deprived of this staple nutrition.

(The writer is a blogger and writes on health, social and other issues, views are personal)

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